When Ruth Gomez was 7, she wanted to be a teacher.
She’d have to go to college, her first-grade teacher told her.
The idea was foreign. Gomez’s parents were immigrants from Mexico. While her father had finished high school, her mother — who ultimately raised the family of six on her own — had been permitted only one year of schooling to learn to read and write.
“I came home and told my mom I was going to college when I grew up,” Gomez said. “Since then, she started calling me her Esperanza, which means Hope.”
Her family worked hard to make Gomez’s dreams come true. Her older brother dropped out of high school at 15 to help pay bills. Her mom worked menial jobs, rushing home after long days as a maid or thrift store sorter to make dinner for the family.
“She’d tell me, ‘Ruthie, don’t be like me. Go to school. Get your education,’” Gomez said.
And she did. Supported by the sacrifices of her family and the faith of her teachers and guidance counselors — who helped her navigate the process of college and scholarship applications — Gomez earned enough financial aid to attend Pacific University.
“I came home and told my mom I was going to college when I grew up. Since then, she started calling me her Esperanza, which means Hope.”
Among her scholarships is the Golden Guard Endowed Scholarship, which supports first-generation students in their junior and senior years of college, when community scholarships often have run out and students are at higher risk of running out of funding to finish school.
She’s a resident assistant, supporting her peers; a member of the university’s improv theatre troupe; and the director of the campus food pantry. She’s also studying public health and hopes to eventually go on to graduate school and become an occupational therapist.
The fifth of the six children in her family, she’s so far the only one to attend college — and this spring, she will become the first to graduate.
“I would like to thank the donors of the Golden Guard Scholarship for supporting first-generation college students like me,” she told alumni in October. “In the future, I hope to repay this gift by contributing to scholarships like this one.”
Golden Guard Endowed Scholarship
Pacific University has long drawn a large number of first-generation students, and today almost a quarter of all Pacific students — undergraduate to doctoral students — are the first in their families to attend college.
While a college education can be transformational for students like Ruth, they also face a higher risk of leaving college without a degree, because of the financial hardships they may face.
The Golden Guard Endowed Scholarship was initially founded by members of the Classes of 1967 and 1968 as their 50-year-reunion class gifts to the university. They enlisted the support of other classes of the 1960s, and the fund also has drawn support from a wide range of donors.
Today, it is almost $100,000 strong, funding two scholarships a year from its earnings. Founders of the scholarship dream of continuing to grow the fund principal to provide more — and larger — scholarships to students in perpetuity, allowing more students like Ruth to access a Pacific University education.